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The Phantom

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Phantom

Starring: Billy Zane, Treat Williams
Director: Simon Wincer
Rated: PG
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: June 1996
Genre: Action

*Also starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Proval, Jon Tenney, Robert Coleby, Kristy Swanson, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan

Reviewer Roundup
1.  MrBrown review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  Dragan Antulov read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by MrBrown
1½ stars out of 4

After the colossal box office disappointments The Rocketeer and The Shadow, one would think that Hollywood would have given up on bringing fairly obscure comic book characters to the big screen. Alas, that isn't the case, but one wishes that were after seeing The Phantom, a silly, unexciting film treatment of Lee Falk's comic book hero of the same name.

Billy Zane plays Kit Walker, the latest in his family to assume the mantle of the Phantom--purple-clad defender of the jungle's riches against pirates, looters, and greed in general. The latter is personified in one Xander Drax (Treat Williams), a wealthy business tycoon of some sort who is determined to find three sacred skulls which, when joined, are a source of immense supernatural power. Needless to say, it's up to "the ghost who walks" to prevent Drax from gaining possession of the three skulls.

Simon Wincer's (Lonesome Dove, Free Willy) film does move very quickly and efficiently; the film opens with a concise introduction to the legend of the Phantom that lasts little more than a minute, and he keeps the action moving accordingly. However, the film, for all its effects and stunts, is strangely unexciting and devoid of fun. The action set pieces, especially the fights, look and feel scripted and staged, lacking any spontaneous energy that would make it the slightest bit convincing; it's hard to have fun with comic book antics that are so forced and calculated. Wincer also fails to create a distinct tone; at times he appears to be going for a tongue-in-cheek comic book that's in on the joke and aware of its ridiculous excesses (which would have been the best choice), but at other times he plays it too straight, which doesn't suit a film about a guy wearing purple tights who rides on horseback in the jungle in the 1930s. But it's not as if Wincer had a great script to work with. Jeffrey Boam's script is little more than Batman meets Indiana Jones, or, more appropriately, The Shadow meets Congo--by-the-numbers, predictable action scenes involving a mysterious costumed hero in the wilds interspersed with city scenes set against Art Deco architecture and vintage automobiles.

The performances also reflect this unevenness of tone. A dark-haired Kristy Swanson, as the love interest, Diana Palmer, goes the straight route and comes off stiff and out of place. On the other side of the coin is Williams, who camps it up as Drax in an apparent attempt to reach the entertaining, manic heights a la Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Problem is, though, while Rickman chewed the scenery, he still came off as a menacing, formidable villain; Williams just comes off as a laughable caricature. Early on, Catherine Zeta Jones's Sala has the makings of a fun femme fatale along the lines of GoldenEye's Xenia Onatopp, but her character makes an inexplicable, abrupt change for the worse late in the game. The only one who achieves the appropriate balance is Zane, who never takes himself too seriously (how could he, given that ridiculous outfit?) while still investing a certain amount of serious conviction to the role. Zane has an appealing, self-effacing sense of humor; he is as credible firing guns as he is tossing off one-liners. If only screenwriter Boam gave him more opportunities to do the latter.

One thing that did strike me about The Phantom were its connections to--yes--Showgirls. Al Ruscio, who played the owner of the Stardust in that disastrous film, turns up as the corrupt New York police commissioner, and Showgirls costume designer Marlene Stewart came up with the duds for this picture; also, the end credits are printed in the same typeface as those of Showgirls. But that's where the connections end, for the blah The Phantom is not nearly as much fun as that awful, awfully entertaining howlfest.

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